NOTE: This is the seventh installment in a series introducing the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Look for football coach Steve Rivers’ profile Monday. Tickets for the 25th AHSAA HOF Banquet set for March 23 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center are still available to the public by calling 334-263-6994 by March 16. Tickets will not be sold at the door and mail order ticket deadline has passed.
By BILL PLOTT
A native of Montgomery, James Alan Mitchell was graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1960 and Huntingdon College in 1964 with a degree in business administration.
Mitchell had starting cover sports part-time for The Montgomery Advertiser while a senior in high school. When he became a student at Huntingdon, he became the school’s sports information director, a position he held until 1966. In 1963, while nearing graduation, the Advertiser offered him a full-time sports-writing position. He continued the dual roles of sportswriter and sports information director until 1966.
That year he left Montgomery for Athens, TN. He became director of publicity for Tennessee Wesleyan College, serving in that capacity for five years.
In 1971, he returned to Montgomery to become sports editor of the Alabama Journal, the afternoon newspaper.
In 1979 he joined the Alabama High School Athletic Association as the organization’s first full-time director of publicity and publications. It was a position sorely needed by the AHSAA, which would soon see high school athletics expand from four to six classifications. It was also the time when the first girls’ sports programs were being put together at many schools.
The job quickly grew into much more. Eventually, Mitchell found himself responsible for the championship awards, springs sports sites, sports committee meetings, building maintenance and website development among other duties. He also saw expanded duties in coordinating the production and layouts of most AHSAA publications and handling many aspects of the Hall of Fame production each year.
By the time Mitchell reached what would prove to be semi-retirement in December 2011, he had logged more than 30 years with the association. He worked with three AHSAA executive directors – Herman L. “Bubba” Scott, Dan Washburn and Steve Saverese. His retirement was only temporary as Savarese related:
“Throughout my career in high school athletics, I have been privileged to work with some of the finest men and women in the field. This group includes coaches, officials, administrators, and AHSAA contributors who all have had one common trait – a desire to excel and to make a difference in the lives of those they serve.
“One of those individuals is Alan Mitchell. For over 35 years, Alan has served the AHSAA in numerous roles from publications to technology. [After retiring] he continued to serve in a part-time status until Jim Tolbert his replacement, left abruptly due to medical issues. Alan immediately stepped back into his previous position for a very minimal salary due to social security and retirement issues. Alan has always been an outstanding administrator, a dedicated professional and a true credit to this association….Alan’s most important contribution to this association is the fact that he nurtured three Executive Directors.”
AHSAA Director of Communications Ron Ingram, who first worked with Mitchell as a sports writer and then as a colleague at the AHSAA, wrote: “I had the pleasure to work closely with Alan in many events in the Alabama High School Athletic Association long before I came to work with the AHSAA. He has always been the ultimate professional – always courteous, patient and a very thorough in his planning and implementation. His leadership with the AHSAA has a been a key reason our state championship programs are so successful.
“His knowledge of AHSAA matters and his tireless work ethic helped me tremendously in covering high school sports for more than 30 years. He treated me no differently when I worked at The Dothan Progress and The Dothan Eagle than when I worked at The Birmingham News.
“Since becoming his co-worker at the AHSAA, I have come to fully appreciate Alan as a caring, dependable associate. He is someone we all turn to when we have questions about AHSAA policy, purpose and history. He is a friend, a mentor and an icon.
“His energy and enthusiasm are contagious. His love for the same principles and ideals that our organization stands for is also a major reason we have had a successful working relationship that has now budded into a close friendship.
“It is most appropriate that Alan Mitchell be selected for the AHSAA Hall of Fame. He is the one who has stood in the background since the Hall’s inception and watched with pride as the banquet he developed and managed helped put the crowning touch on so many special honorees’ life-long labors. Alan is an MVP, but is not one who seeks MVP honors. It is time that others reward him for his unselfish and tireless contributions.”
The National Federation of High Schools, at its 92nd annual summer meeting in Philadelphia, presented Mitchell the National Citation Award for Section 3. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the mission of the NFHS and state associations. Section 3 encompasses seven southern states. He became only the fourth Alabamian to receive the award. The others were Ken Blankenship (2000), Greg Brewer (2006), and Houston Young (2010), all of whom worked closely with Mitchell over the years.
Mitchell has been inducted into the Huntingdon College Athletic Hall of Fame. He has held membership in the National Sportscasters and Sports Writers Association, the National Association of Baseball Writers and Sigma Delta Chi professional journalism society.